Optimism is the theme after the first two weeks

ByJohn Buccigross ESPN logo
Monday, November 2, 2015

Peter Ustinov, who died in 2004 at the age of 82, was an Englishman who loved life like coffee addicts crave their morning fix. Many folks can't replicate the enthusiasm and anticipation they feel at Dunkin' Donuts or Tim Hortons in the responsibilities, journey and adventure of their lives. Ustinov did. Life can't always be like the rush of that first sip, but a good attitude will get you close.

Ustinov (not a part of the famed Russian Five, although his name sounds like he belongs) was a director, writer and two-time Academy Award-winning actor ("Spartacus" and "Topkapi") -- and a Hart Trophy raconteur on talk shows around the world. He wrote and directed stage plays and led international theatrical productions. He did it all and did it well. He spoke six languages fluently, including the accents and dialects. People like Ustinov live and work hard and well because they understand that happiness comes from the simple joy of waking up alive, carrying that joy throughout the day, bringing a good attitude doing the thing you love, and having a generally curious, optimistic, sunny view of life's tasks.

You can try the best you can

If you try the best you can

The best you can is good enough

-- "Optimistic" by Radiohead

"The point of living is to believe the best is yet to come."

This is a beautiful and useful quote from Ustinov because of its optimism, tenderness and wisdom. It's near perfect. It keeps us sharp and hungry. It keeps us in hunt mode with a willingness to change, even when it's not our choice. It also can help us in our deepest, darkest, heaviest moments when we wonder if we'll ever heal and be happy again. The pain might never evaporate, but we can at least try to resurface and skate on by believing things can be better.

Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully could have retired in 1997 at age 70 or at age 75 or even at 80. Scully is still working. He turns 88 in November and he has NEVER been more revered, respected or valued than he is today. Scully is a Los Angeles civic institution and a national treasure. Through the prism of receiving respect and warmth from others (and what's more comforting than that?), the best was yet to come for Scully.

By continuing to show up and bringing that optimistic joy and sunny attitude to the thing he loves, Scully continues to live long and well despite the difficulties of aging and the unspeakable tragedies of losing his first wife to an accidental medical overdose in 1972 and his oldest son to a helicopter crash in 1994.

I don't know if Scully ever met Peter Ustinov -- my guess is that somehow he did -- but I bet onlookers would need sunscreen from the glow. I'm sure it would be a conversation for the ages.

Optimism is the theme for this list of individuals and teams. The NHL season is just two weeks old, but for some, the best is yet to come. Here is a list of 10 things that have caught my eye early in this season.

1. Connor McDavid: We will start with McDavid because he was the first pick in the draft, a Canadian kid drafted by a Canadian team. At times, McDavid has looked as somber as a member of the Beatles during their final 1966 tour. He's been in a glass case for years, the anointed one. During some postgame interviews, McDavid has looked lifeless and almost sad. So much praise and optimism heaped upon him and such a bad start for the Edmonton Oilers (0-4), and it's only going to get colder. Same old Oilers? Well, the magic started to happen Saturday night in Calgary. Loose muscles are fast muscles and McDavid was "Magic." (That would be an appropriate nickname.) The Oilers won in Calgary and Vancouver on back-to-back nights. Get ready for takeoff. The acceleration, the change of direction, the fast, prescient mind. This dude it legit. Watch him.

2. Jack Eichel: I wrote a lot about him last week in this space. The Buffalo Sabres are better this season, but they are still not ready for the playoffs. Buffalo's games have been close. And if they can stay healthy and their young players individually improve, the Sabres could have a better second half. Winning isn't easy. You need to get breaks drafting, trading and signing. Eichel is an excellent pillar but no one does it alone in hockey. But for now, the Sabres and Eichel are worth watching. There will be many jaw-dropping moments.

3. The Detroit Red Wings: Rookie Dylan Larkin, who was a one-and-done at Michigan last season, couldn't be in a better position to succeed. Playing for a great organization, and with surefire Hall of Famer Henrik Zetterberg and rugged Justin Abdelkader, who has figured out how to succeed at age 28. Larkin, 19, is an electric player who can play at high speeds, and he sees the ice well. He's playing wing but eventually he will be a No. 1 center for the Wings.

Abdelkader, suddenly, is set to score a nice contract next summer as an unrestricted free agent, if he gets there. The former Michigan State Spartan had 23 goals last season and will likely get 30 this season if he plays with playmakers Zetterberg and Larkin all season. Abdelkader will probably command around five years at $25 million as a starting point. I would think there is a good chance Abdelkader signs an extension during the season, being a Michigan man and being in such a good situation for personal and team success during the life of the most important and lucrative contract of his career. He does turn 29 in February, which makes term a little tricky. Do the Wings offer more years to get the term down? Seven years at $33.25 million is a cap number of $4.75 million. It would take Abdelkader to age 36, and the way he plays, injuries would have to be a concern. Or because this will be the biggest contract of his career, maybe Abdelkader and his reps will hold out for a front-loaded contract that averages over $5 million a year. Because it's the best place for him professionally, and a deal appears to be there for both sides, I would think Abdelkader would extend during the season so he can relax and play.

4. The Montreal Canadiens: They're off to the best start in Canadiens history. If every NHL goalie were made a free agent and there were a goalie-only draft, Carey Price would go No. 1 overall. Big, poised, smart, competitive and athletic. That's a good way to go through life. Max Pacioretty is an elite goal scorer with a $4.5 million cap number for four more years -- that is stealing for the Canadiens. Another younger, dynamic defenseman to support P.K. Subban would be a great add at some point, but this is a really good team with a nice mix of young, prime and older veterans. Having a pillar such as Price is such a good place to start. He is one of those rare goalies who makes everyone better.

5. Joe Pavelski: The San Jose Sharks, who never have an easy travel schedule, had to begin the season with five road games out of six, four on the East Coast. They went 4-2 on historic goaltending from Martin Jones. San Jose returns home for a stretch of games as the Sharks continue to try to bank early-season points. Logan Couture's injury (broken leg) is a huge hit to their scoring depth, but this team can survive. Pavelski was named captain and that looks like an excellent choice: He is a sensational player in the prime of his life, a 31-year-old father making $6 million a year with a single-digit handicap on the golf course. Productive, durable, serious and skilled. How many seventh-round picks become captains? I picked the Sharks to make the postseason based on Pavelski getting the "C." He has a little Chris Drury in him, and as many longtime readers know, those kinds of guys can persuade me.

6. The Central Division: As expected, this division is a beast and is already in beast mode. With the talent on these seven teams, depending on health and cohesion, you really could see any of them making the playoffs. It's difficult to envision they won't get five of the seven into the postseason. I had all but the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche making it, but if those teams get great goaltending, they certainly have the firepower to sneak in. The Central Division isn't just the best division in the NHL. It's the best division BY FAR.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins' defense: No points in the first five games for Sidney Crosby, yet another new group of Penguins players must congeal. It's Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz and changing parts around them. Do they love each other? Do they like each other? Do they play for each other? Is Sidney Crosby still unconditionally in love with hockey and does he feel the best is yet to come? Would he do ANYTHING to win and does he vocalize this to his teammates? But back to the point. The Penguins allowed just nine goals in their first five games. If that continues, with a combination of puck possession, blocked shots and goaltending, the Penguins will be an elite goal-prevention team. When the offense is off and running, they could go on a big run. One thing is for sure: If every Penguin played and practiced with the heart and dedication of Patric Hornqvist, the Penguins might never lose.

8. Aleksander Barkov: There are fewer agreeable hockey players than Finns. They are generally very friendly, optimistic and conversational. I attended the Arizona State-UConn hockey game on Friday night. After the game, in the UConn dressing room, Finnish defenseman Joona Kunnas came up to me, took off his stylish, 1920s flatcap, and proceeded to have an easy conversation. The Florida Panthers have a big, friendly Finn in Aleksander Barkov, who appears ready for a breakout year. The Panthers had the second overall pick in 2013. Seth Jones, Barkov and Jonathan Drouin were sitting there for the Panthers, and GM Dale Tallon, after the Avalanche chose Nathan MacKinnon at No. 1 overall, took Barkov. There is still a long way to go, but it looks as if the Panthers made the right pick. Barkov continues to improve, and this season he has more jump to go with his great hands and good size (6-foot-3, 215). Another reason to watch Barkov's games is that he is playing with a certified beauty, Jaromir Jagr.

9. Max Domi: Max Domi and the fast and fun Arizona Coyotes head east this week. Domi, 19, is one of the most interesting stories in the NHL. He's the son of a Brunswick bowling-ball-headed former enforcer, Tie Domi, who played 1,020 NHL games because of his Mike Tyson left hook. Domi accumulated 3,515 penalty minutes that were acquired five, 10, 20 minutes at a time. Domi is third all time in PIMs behind Tiger Williams and Dale Hunter. Tie's son, Max, is not a chip off the old block. He is a fast, silky, saucy center who has scored wherever he has played. His backhand passing and shooting has resembled Sidney Crosby's in the early going. Watch the Coyotes games this week and check out Domi and former New York Rangers prospect Anthony Duclair play together. They are in Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

10. 3-on-3: One of the most radical decisions in NHL history has been a shot of adrenaline that many low-scoring, blocked-shotfest games need. The best part of 3-on-3 overtime is that it takes away coaching -- it is immune to systems and instead relies on speed, instinct and aggressiveness. (One possible negative? I fear the NASCAR-speed 3-on-3 could cause a serious injury at some point. I know, injuries can happen anytime.) And, well, 3-on-3 is costing me more #bucciovertimechallenge T-shirts, but that's OK. You fans deserve it. And most importantly, it's fun. Enjoy.